Hollywood is still churning out remakes of foreign films on a regular basis and now Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is getting the treatment. Surprisingly, the maverick director Spike Lee is handling this remake of the South Korean classic mystery thriller. Lee is not known for directing remakes and he is an interesting choice for the job.

The South Korean original itself was based on a Japanese Manga comic released from 1996-1998 which had the same story and characters. The story is actually rather simple at first but it becomes more complex as the narrative progresses. This remake appears to be a faithful recreation of Chan-wook’s film as it is has the same story, characters and plot twists.

In this remake the main character is an advertising executive called Joe Doucett and he is played by the rather versatile actor Josh Brolin. Doucett is kidnapped, drugged and then incarcerated for twenty years in a crummy apartment with only a TV for company. His only connection to the outside world is the news channel that is playing on his television and he becomes increasingly depressed and isolated. His food is delivered via a slot that opens in the locked door to his room and by night he is put to sleep by some kind of knockout gas that is pumped into the room. While he sleeps his captors clean the room, remove his dirty dishes then in the morning he wakes up again and the routine continues. The reasons for Doucett’s imprisonment are a mystery and this only makes the situation worse, the poor man has no knowledge of why he is there or how long his confinement will last. Such a dire situation could easily cause a person to lose the will to live and their sanity.

Things then become even more interesting as Doucett is drugged and then suddenly released without any explanation, he wakes up in a field with the suit he has on his back and nothing else. He is understandably miffed about the hell he had to endure for twenty years and vows revenge. The rest of the story concerns him trying to find the people responsible for his imprisonment so he can punish them, he also hooks up with a young woman called Marie who becomes his sidekick. Marie is played by the talented actress Elizabeth Olsen who has appeared in some good movies over the last three or four years. Together Doucett and Marie try to solve this mystery which leads to violence and some shocking revelations.

Samuel L. Jackson appears in the film as the head warden of the facility Doucett was trapped in for twenty years. The supporting cast also includes Michael Imperioli as a friend of Doucett’s who helps him when he is released and also Sharlto Copley who is rumoured to be playing the bad guy. Spike Lee is a very good director and he is always able to get his actors to deliver solid performances, good acting and pacing are to be expected when he directs a film. He also likes to inject his own personal style into a movie with stuff like his trademark double dolly shots where characters are filmed on a moving platform. When the trick shot is used the actors appear to be floating towards the camera or on a rotating platform for an interesting effect. Some movie fans may dislike this little trademark but it can add something to a scene if used well and in moderation. The shot is sometimes used to predict an event or dramatic scene that is about to unfold and that is when it often works best. Lee is full of interesting directing tricks and he is often drawn towards taboo subject matter so Oldboy should be a good project for him.

The trailer is fairly straightforward and it tells the viewer everything they need to know about the film. There are hints at the violence in the film and the villain aka puppet master is only seen from behind which is a nice touch. There is also a nice effect where Doucett is channel surfing while watching TV in his prison, the camera is focused on the television screen but the wall behind it is also in the shot. He uses the remote to change channels, TV static lines then appear briefly on the screen during the second it takes for one channel to switch to another. What’s interesting is that this effect appears in the whole shot and not just on the television screen so even the walls behind the TV set have the static lines. It reminds the viewer that the whole room is being watched by surveillance cameras and there is a guard watching the room on monitors somewhere in the facility. The effect is used a few times and then replaced by quick cuts as the tension increases when Doucett learns from the TV that is wife was murdered and he is the prime suspect.

Oldboy 2013 looks like an effective thriller that is very faithful to the 2003 movie and that could be its biggest flaw. Sometimes an American remake is so faithful to the foreign original it was based on that there are few differences between the movies. This means that fans who saw the first film know exactly what is going to happen in the remake. It also makes some remakes like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho a chore to watch and pointless. If Spike Lee infuses Oldboy with some of his own ideas and interesting camera work the film will be better for it. The Korean film also had some flaws with the plot so a different interpretation of some of the events would be cool. One of the best things about the movie was the idea that the main character thinks he is a free man when he is released from prison, sadly he slowly realizes that he has simply been released into a larger prison, a prison without bars.  The film appears to have kept that aspect of the story which is good and if  the director can produce something interesting from the source material Oldboy could be great.

Oldboy will be released on December 6th. Have a look at the trailer and share your thoughts.